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Another Year, More Voices for Young Americans: An Interview with Lance Bangs

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Lance Bangs spent his youth making music videos for bands such as Sonic Youth, R.E.M., Belle & Sebastian and The Shins, and, among other camera jobs, lensing episodes of Jackass.

In a way, Bangs' has been documenting youth for two decades, but never so candidly as for his web-series "Young Americans" (which is hosted online at Vice in collaboration with Scion AV). For the first season of "Young Americans", Bangs (producer/director) ventured across the USA in an election year to ask millennials about the economy and the workforce, which was, of course, the largest theme of the election cycle. However, that political discourse was primarily angled to the middle class and the middle aged, and less toward the youth, who have the most troublesome unemployment rate in the USA.

In 2013, Bangs' wanted to probe deeper for a second eight-series program. In season two, ethnicity is the guise which Bangs and his crew focus on, viewed through topics such as immigration, body image, socializing, and media representations.

In May, I chatted with Bangs' about the previous episodes, his method and his surprise with youth movements across the USA.

Q: What was your mission for the first season of "Young Americans"? After completing one series, did it change at all going into the second season?

LANCE BANGS: For the first season of "Young Americans" I was shooting during a national election year, and I explored not only what was on the minds of young people but also whether they would engage as strongly in the elections as they had four years prior. Traditional media outlets seemed to predict that this generation would sit the election out or be detached, in a sort of entitled and immature huff. Those predictions were wrong, and in the aftermath of young people having had such a clinching sway in the elections, I wanted to probe deeper into what they were thinking about in more personal and identity related topics.

Q: The first season of "Young Americans" focused primarily on struggles of youth employment and perspective on the current state of "The American Dream" and political identity. One thing that struck me is that, this millennial generation is often labeled as having entitlement issues from older generations, yet, most of the youth you interviewed spoke to a sort of reverence of what their parents provided, an understanding that their parents are struggling as well, and a big desire to be viewed as on the right path for their parents. The second season will focus on body image, LGBT issues, immigration, stereotyping, etc. Do you find these issues to be the defining topic of a generational shift?

LB: I was personally surprised by how many responses were from people who didn't seem to have a generational conflict with their parents, but were as you said understanding of the struggles that their parents are going through and appreciative of how they've been raised so far. Some of the areas that have nationally seemed to be breaking along generational lines have been with personal identity, immigration, body image, LGBT issues, race relations and so I was interested in bearing down on some of these topics.

Q: Where did you travel for the second season of "Young Americans" and -- speaking to stereotypes -- were you surprised at all from regional answers to social issues?

LB: As we did in the first season, we covered most of the United States in our footage and interviews. Our blind spots now are Maine, the Dakotas, and Puerto Rico so I'm hoping for a third season. I was slightly surprised by some of the young people in agrarian states who because of internet access are sharing in the same culture, slang, and clothing styles as young people in urban centers. I was also surprised by several people who acknowledge and confront their own internalized prejudices and racial dynamics in an open way, rather than just denying them.

Q: Does your production do typical casting calls in finding the subjects that you interview? (i.e. already knowing a part of their story or do you go about interviewing in a random way?)

LB: I avoided any sort of traditional casting calls. I prefer getting out in the world and finding people where they are hanging out or working. Because there were specific topics we were curious to explore this season, a few of the interviewees were discovered from research of people that are already thinking about and talking about some of these issues. Once we had an edit structure emerging, I would make an effort to go shoot additional interviews to balance out or give depth to the perspectives that were evolving. I also interviewed a lot of young people that I socialize with in my other work, so there are some comedians, writers, designers, and skaters mixed in among the voices. Additionally, we had local shooters in distant regions picking up interviews to get as wide of a range of subjects as we could.

Q: The first season was shot during an election year and the second season was filmed after, did you notice any shifts from season to season in how the youth are viewing our elected officials?

LB: It seemed to me that people were more resolved in their sense of things after the election. There is an inevitable shift towards increasing recognition of previously marginalized identities; a sense that the rigid social structure of older generations is being replaced by a more open society for a wider range of young people. The young people I spoke to continue to be skeptical or outright dismissive of elected officials and their motivations.

Q: the Internet has seemed to change the idea of youth community to be a global movement. In traveling around the USA have you found that ties to local involvement or youth movements has waned or shifted in favor of being heard in a national or global perspective?

LB: At the moment I'm excited by the counter movement of young people who are pushing back by creating their own slang, their own styles, their own tastes on a local scale of their friends rather than just going along with the existing national trends.

"Young Americans" season two, will begin airing on Wednesday, on VICE tv, with these topics to follow:

Wednesday, May 29th - "Coming to America"
Wednesday, June 5th - "The Asian-American Experience"
Wednesday, June 12th - "Media Representations"
Wednesday, June 19th - "Body Image"
Wednesday, June 26th - "LGBT"
Wednesday, July 3rd - "Socializing"
Wednesday, July 10th - "Cultural Stereotypes"
Wednesday, July 17th - "Where Are We Headed?

You can also subscribe to the Scion A/V channel online for viewing or updates on postings.